PAUL’S DESIRE — GOD’S INTENTION
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of His Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last, by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to make you strong — that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Romans 1:8-12.
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, took his job seriously. He had been commissioned by his Lord to take the good news to the world. This did not necessarily mean that it was his personal responsibility to preach to every Gentile in the world. That would have been impossible then, even if he had all the technology and all the facilities we have today.
Paul relied on God’s amazing strategy of multiplication. It was God’s plan that the church grow by multiplication, the same strategy that works in nature. In spite of the slow modes of transport then, people, including believers, moved around from place to place and wherever they went, believers spread the story of Jesus.
Some new churches began through the work of faithful men, for example, men like Epaphras, who started the church at Colossae. Other churches sprang up as ordinary believers witnessed to their faith in Jesus as they moved around. No one knows how the church at Rome began but nevertheless Paul felt responsible to visit the believers in Rome, to ensure that they were on the right track and to strengthen them in the face of persecution.
The city of Rome was the hub of the Roman Empire. Paul knew how influential the church there was and it was his task to ensure that they understood and believed the truth of the gospel. The news of their faith had already spread to the whole world. Paul would not exaggerate lest he be thought a liar. He rejoiced in their faith but he also prayed faithfully for them. They were in the firing line for both persecution and error.
Life for believers anywhere in the empire was an uphill battle. They were the targets of hostility from both Jews and Gentiles and the pernicious false teachings of self-proclaimed “apostles” who twisted the truth or added to it to make it more palatable. Part of Paul’s commission as an apostle was to interpret the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and to teach the infant believers the truth that would steer them through the morass of false teachings.
This responsibility included the churches he did not personally found. The letter to the Roman church was borne in his heart as he battled the Judaisers, Jewish “believers” who insisted that Gentiles first be circumcised before they could embrace Jesus as their Lord. Paul was enraged by any teaching that subtracted from the sufficiency of Jesus for salvation by adding rules and ritual to faith in Him.
The church in the province of Galatia, possibly more than one church group, was hounded by these false teachers and had been taken in by them. Paul wrote a heated and emotional letter to them, pleading with them not to throw away their salvation by adding the law to their faith in Christ. Even submitting to circumcision would disqualify them from receiving God’s grace in Christ.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is like Mount Everest in the mountain range of New Testament letters. Through it, Paul paved the way for his intended visit to them by giving them a detailed explanation of God’s righteousness revealed through justification by faith in Christ alone, no doubt flowing out of his hot defence of the gospel to the Galatian believers. He wanted to see them face-to-face, to connect with them, to fellowship with them and to share his heart with them in person. A letter was good but a personal visit was better.
He was submitted to the will of God, no matter how much he longed to go to Rome. Little did he know, when he penned his letter, that his visit to Rome would be sponsored by the Roman government and his accommodation provided at Rome’s expense right in Caesar’s palace, albeit as a prisoner chained to a Roman soldier! All the better because his witness would spread throughout the palace guard and infiltrate Rome from the very top.
Talk about God’s wisdom in action! Paul may not have thought it up, but he certainly recognised it when it happened. In this masterplan of God, Paul’s desire to visit Rome and God’s plan to take him there, came together.
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” Philippians 1:12-14.
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